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US official to visit India next week with an expert team for consultations on oil import issue
Ratcheting up pressure on India to isolate Iran, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton on Tuesday sidestepped a question on whether New Delhi is eligible for a waiver of possible sanctions that will affect those nations continuing to buy oil from Iran, despite acknowledging that the Indian government had cut imports from the Islamic nation.
In New Delhi on the last leg of a three-nation Asian tour on Tuesday, Clinton lauded Indian refiners for their cuts in crude imports from Iran, adding that the US was working with energy-deficient India to find alternative crude supplies.
“We also look to India as a partner in the broad international effort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The best way to achieve this is...for the international community to stay united and keep the pressure that has brought Iran back to the negotiating table until we reach a peaceful diplomatic resolution,” she said after talks with her Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna. “I welcome the progress India has been making in its purchases of oil from Iran and hope to see continuing progress because we believe that if the international community eases the pressure or wavers in its resolve, Iran will have less incentive to negotiate in good faith,” she said.
Carlos Pascual, US state department special envoy and coordinator for international energy affairs, will be visiting India next week with an expert team to continue consultations, Clinton said. The US in December announced a number of sanctions aimed at crippling the revenue Iran received from the sale of oil. The European Union followed suit in January. The sanctions follow concerns among Western nations that Iran is secretly building nuclear weapons, although Tehran says its atomic programme is for peaceful use.
Japan and South Korea–two of Iran’s major buyers of crude oil and key allies of the US–have been declared eligible for a waiver of Western sanctions after cutting imports, according to the US state department. India, which used to import around 12%-13% of its crude oil needs from Iran, says it has cut the imports to around 8-9%, according to news reports.
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee was cited as telling reporters in the US by Reuters last month that only 14 million tonnes (mt) of the 160-170 mt of crude oil imported by India is sourced from Iran. The Islamic republic is no longer India’s second-biggest supplier after Saudi Arabia and has now been replaced by Iraq.
In his remarks, Krishna underscored the importance of energy-rich Iran to India as an important source of crude oil supplies. Besides this, “India has vital stakes in the Gulf region,” he said, referring to the six million Indians living there, sending money home.
He also pointed out that the region accounted for $100 billion in exports, underlining the importance of “a peaceful and negotiated settlement of issues relating to Iran’s nuclear programme.” The minister also said that India adhered to all UN sanctions, adding that any further reductions would be taken by its refineries “based on commercial, financial and technical considerations.” Iran, however, “is not a source of discord between our two countries,” Krishna said.
Economic ties and investment, Afghanistan and terrorism were among the other issues discussed. Both Clinton and Krishna urged Pakistan to do more to clamp down on terrorism and eliminate havens for militant groups on its soil.
Referring to the $10 million reward for information leading to the arrest or conviction of the planners of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, including Hafiz Saeed, Clinton said this was because “we wanted to raise the visibility and make it very clear that the US had reason to believe that Hafiz Saeed had been one of the principal architects of the attack against Mumbai.”
On trade, Clinton urged an expansion of commercial links between the two countries, besides a reduction to trade barriers. Krishna said he had voiced concerns “about the continuing difficulties on mobility of professionals, especially for IT companies, and protectionist sentiments in the US with regard to global supply chain in services industry.”
On civil nuclear cooperation between India and the US, Krishna and Clinton welcomed the talks between US companies and Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd for setting up nuclear power plants in the country. Krishna assured a level-playing field for US firms in the Indian market.
A landmark deal signed in 2008 enabled India to throw off its 34-year-old nuclear pariah status and become eligible to buy atomic power plants and technology from the international market. The pact, pushed through by the US, is still to see US firms in the Indian market, thanks to strict provisions of India’s nuclear liability laws.
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